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It is said that seven spectres call Croft Castle home. It is perhaps then no surprise that this historic fortress is reputed to be the most haunted house in the Midlands region of the United Kingdom. 1
The imposing stone castle of Croft, located in the English county of Herefordshire, represents 1,000 years of power and politics. It has also served as family home, having been in the hands of the Croft family (with the exception of a relatively short abeyance of 177 years) since around 1055. Recorded in the Domesday book as having been founded by a Norman knight called Bernard the Bearded, the castle was originally constructed to protect the English border from the Welsh. Its position in the Welsh Marches has meant that Croft Castle and its inhabitants have been well-placed to find themselves embroiled in all manner of political and military manners throughout the centuries. 2
Despite its appearance, the current structure at the estate is technically not a castle. Thin walls and large, Georgian sash windows make the manor house poorly suited for defence. The original castle on the site was slighted in the 17th century during the English Civil War, meaning it was deliberately destroyed after it fell to Parliamentarian forces. Rather than see it be used for their purposes, the staunch Royalist Croft family presided over its destruction. The family home was later rebuilt by Herbert Croft (d.1691), who was selected to be the Bishop of Hereford in 1660 by the now restored monarch, King Charles II.3 His Grace the Lord Bishop Herbert Croft is just one of many who is said to have left such an impact on Croft Castle that he remains there, haunting its hallways, to this day.
“I can tell you a ghost story about every single room that the public has access to.” – a volunteer conducting a tour at Croft Castle
The ghost of Owain Glyndŵr
Arguably the most famous of Croft Castle’s ghostly residents is Owain Glyndŵr.
Glyndŵr was a Welsh freedom fighter who instigated a relentless yet ultimately unsuccessful war of independence against the English in the fifteenth century. As well as being remembered as the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales, Glyndŵr is also cherished as a Welsh folk hero. Having acquired a legendary status after his death, he is said to be awaiting the call to return and liberate his people, in a similar manner to the mythical figure of Arthur.
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Glyndŵr’s connection to Croft Castle can be found in the marriage between one of his daughters and Sir John de Croft. 4 It has been suggested that the Welsh freedom fighter travelled from daughter to daughter, hiding out in their homes in order to evade capture after the fall of his last stronghold in 1409. If this theory is correct, then Croft Castle may have played host to Glyndŵr.
Whatever the truth may be, despite the enormous rewards that were being offered at the time, Glyndŵr was neither captured nor betrayed. Nothing is known of his eventual fate and death.
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In an attempt to explain the mystery surrounding the hero’s ending, some have suggested that Glyndŵr not only spent time living at Croft Castle, but died there too.
One story which has been told by those who work at the castle is how a “very tall skeleton” was found at the base of one of the towers whilst renovation work was being completed in the early twentieth century. In one version of the story, a “feed bowl” was found with the skeleton. 5
Whilst the exact details of this tale are hard to come by, some have suggested that the remains belonged to Owain Glyndŵr, who was reputed to be over six-foot tall. If true, this would make Croft Castle his final resting place.
Such a gruesome story may help to explain the origin of what is said to be the most imposing apparition to have been spotted at Croft Castle – the figure of an extremely tall man clad in leather. In some reports, the spectre is described as being seven-foot tall. 6
Herbert Croft’s gazing apparition
As mentioned, Herbert Croft, the seventeenth century Bishop of Hereford, is claimed to haunt Croft Castle.
In 2013, the castle closed to the public so that major renovation work could be carried out. During the closure, a security guard was employed to make sure that the site was secure after the builders went home. It was whilst walking the perimeter of the building that he saw something peculiar. Looking up at one of the windows, he is said to have caught sight of a man looking out over the fields that lay beyond the castle. As no one was supposed to be inside, the security guard conducted a thorough search. The window he had seen the man standing in related to an attic room known as Welshman’s attic. He could not find anyone inside, either in attic or the rest of the house.
Having determined the building to be empty, he locked up and went back to walking the perimeter. As he approached the same side of the castle, he again saw the man looking out of the window. Disturbed, the security guard once again checked the house, certain that he had seen someone inside. As before, he could not find anyone.
After the renovations were completed and the estate reopened, the security guard supposedly came to visit the castle. By now the interior had been redressed, with the furnishings and portraits returned to the rooms. As he walked into the front foyer, his attention was immediately caught by the portrait of Herbert Croft, Bishop of Hereford. The security guard, it is said, was certain that Herbert was the man he had seen standing in the window of Welshman’s attic. According to the tale, he believed he had seen the ghost of Herbert Croft.
It is reputed that outside the window where Herbert was sighted standing there used to be a village. Considering the village and its inhabitants to be a blight on the landscape, Herbert had them moved. According to the tale, the now unspoiled view is so captivating that Herbert Croft occasionally returns from beyond the grave to enjoy it – and to make sure that the plebs have not returned.
Strange happenings at Croft Castle
In addition to the revenants of Owain Glyndŵr and Herbert Croft, the castle is said to be home to several other spirits.
According to the National Trust’s website, members of staff have “reported many strange occurrences”, including the sound of “a wailing baby” and the appearance of “a spectral figure wearing a grey doublet and hose”. 7
Another ghostly figure is that of a woman “wearing crinoline and a close fitting cap”. She is reported to have been seen gazing from a window. 8
There are even rumours of a botched Ouija board session having taken place in the castle’s Oak Room. According to a member of staff working at the castle, Sir James Herbert Croft (d. 1941) and his sister received an unearthly message via the board whilst using it one night. Just before the planchette moved, they allegedly heard loud knocks on one of the castle’s windows.
Visiting Croft Castle, Herefordshire, UK
During my weekday visit to Croft Castle, I was fortunate to be able to experience an attic and cellar tour, led by a National Trust volunteer called Simon. With his careful guidance and full knowledge of the castle’s history, I was taken behind the scenes, so to speak, to see areas of the castle which are usually out of bounds to the public.
Most memorable was Welshman’s attic, a long loft accessible by a twisted, seventeenth century green oak staircase. As I stood soaking up the dimly lit attic’s heavy atmosphere, Simon explained how it may have once played host to drovers as they moved their livestock across the country. The attic also served as a girls’ dormitory during the Second World War when St. Mary’s Convent School for Girls moved into the castle.9 It was both utterly charming and somewhat eerie to see the faint doodles and writings that the girls had scribbled on the walls of the attic during their time living there.
Just before we left, I moved out from under the attic’s gloomy beams and into the sun which was pouring through the window set into the end gable. In that moment, I was standing in the very same spot that the ghost of Herbert Croft has been sighted. Expecting to feel a chill, or some other supernatural sensation, I was left somewhat disappointed, feeling only the warmth of the sun on my face.
Croft Castle is maintained by the National Trust and can be visited most days of the year. Please consult their website for winter closings. Access to the property is ticketed (Adult – £12.60 ; Child – £6.30 ; Family – £31.50). National Trust members may visit free of charge. There is car parking facilities on site, as well as toilets and a café. Please be advised that all of the walks in the parkland are natural pathways meaning that they can be muddy and slippy. Sensible footwear is advised. As with all historic sites, please be respectful of the building and its surroundings.
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